Connected Cars and Driver Health Monitoring

I was working with a client on an Internet of Things (IoT) strategy specific to the connected cars industry. Everybody is on the quest for the next IoT’s “killer app”, hoping to get a piece of a pie that is estimated by some to exceed $40B in less than 5 years.

Among the many possibilities enabled by sensor-rich connected cars is using sensors embedded in the steering wheel and the driver’s seat to detect if the driver is about to have a heart attack or suffer another debilitating medical condition. Below is an excerpt from an article in Auto Connected Car News:

Heart Attack Monitor Seat

Experts from Ford’s European Research and Innovation Centre in Aachen, Germany and Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule (RWTH) Aachen University worked on the Ford heart monitor seat that has special embedded sensors that detect electrical impulses generated by the heart. The heart data is combined with camera observations.

If the seat detects a heart problem and or camera detects slumping, the system engages safety measures if heart attack occurs, the vehicle’s self driving module kicks in to stop in a safe location and avoid an imminent collision. It could also be program to e-call for help.

Sounds like a well worthy investment, doesn’t it?

But let’s take a look a closer look at the actual potential. How many accidents could this technology prevent?

The U.S. Department of Transportation National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey (NMVCCS) estimates that between July 3, 2005 and December 31, 2007, 49,868 drivers were involved in crashes precipitated by drivers’ medical emergencies. This accounts for about 20,000 drivers annually, or an incidence rate of only 1.3 percent of all drivers in the study.

Difficult Questions

From an actuarial point of view the benefit of the technology seem somewhat underwhelming, and questions about the business value of investing in building into cars at additional cost to the consumer are only prudent:

  • How many drivers might find this technology appealing enough to pay a premium for a new car and for medical alert services?
  • With a potentially small buyer population, will automakers even find this technology worth investing in? Do OEMs believe it can drive enough value and brand differentiation?
  • Could this technology drive down insurance premium costs?
  • Will automakers hesitate to get involved in driver health monitoring and the potential consequences of failing to defect a condition that resulted in a crash?

Sorting Through the Clutter

I am not suggesting that driver’s health monitoring should not be pursued.  A rapidly aging population that spends more time behind the wheel might find the technology compelling, and when combined with other information from wearable devices it could be useful in ongoing monitoring of the driver’s state of alertness and well being both in and outside the car. My point is that the IoT and connected car technologies ignite the imagination and open the door to many possibilities that need careful scrutiny. Even then, most of them will not see the light of day.

This is, of course, true in any field that experiences rapid innovation. But the potential volume of connected cars seems as endless rich field of opportunities. By 2020 90% of new cars sold are going have connectivity capabilities, although, overall, less than 25% of cars on the road will be actually connected (see “Reaching a Critical Mass”.)

So before investing in the new connected cars “killer app”, filter out as much hype and weak statistics as possible, research the facts, ask the right questions, and understand the factors that accelerate and inhibit market adoption. Then build the use case, value proposition and business plan accordingly.